FIRST Day of Preschool

sunny-tablewith-wordsA new semester has brought a new group of students.  Today they all took their first step into preschool class.  Most were pretty timid upon walking through the door.  A few tears were shed during the first hour, but they were easily assuaged with a little comforting.  My philosophy with my students is to entice them out of their shell rather than push.  In preparation for first day jitters, I had each parent send me a family picture ahead of time.  When the children came into the classroom, they took off their coats and hung them up.  Then they were told to go to the photo table and find their family.  Hah!  Here’s a task they could not fail.  They KNEW the answer to this test!  You could see visible relief on their faces as they marched themselves and “their family” over to our table to choose a seat.  I try to have Mylar balloons for each student this first day of class.  Who doesn’t love a Mylar balloon?  They make the atmosphere feel fun and festive right off the bat.

 

WELCOME ACTIVITY
The students found a seat they liked, propped their family photo against their balloon’s weight and proceeded to engage in doing wooden puzzles.  Very few preschoolers can resist the draw of bright wooden puzzles, but I had one today.  He was particularly nervous and could not be drawn out by the lure of puzzles.  Luckily, he was excited to see my shape-sorter ball on the table as well.  This was a “puzzle” he could enjoy.

SCHOOL SKILLS HOUR
Once all the kids had arrived and had sufficient time to explore the puzzles, we welcomed the class and went around the table with each student holding up their picture and telling us about who was in their family.  We noticed that some of our students were the oldest in their family while others were the youngest.  Some had both older and younger siblings.  Two families had all boys and one family had all girls.   I asked students to raise their hands if they had 2 kids in their family, 5 kids, etc.  It was a great time to compare how our families were similar and different.

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After everybody got a chance to share about their family, we brought out my Snail’s Pace Race game.  This is probably THE BEST preschool game around.  I like to think of it as a preschool version of the Kentucky Derby, but without the betting.  Theoretically, it is a non-competitive game, but kids can always find a way to compete.  Playing games is a wonderful way to teach a child so many skills, not the least of which is, “How to be a good winner/loser.”  We went over that lesson, and then I took note of the behavior of the children.  Do they have their colors down? (Yes!) Can they play by the rules?  Do they take turns nicely?  Does anybody try to cheat?  The kids took turns rolling the color dice and moving the snails and we all cheered for each snail as it crossed the finish line.

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Mylar Balloons with Tiny Solo Cup Baskets

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Stones kept our balloons anchored until we were ready to do our experimenting with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The night before, I’d weighted the Mylar balloons by tying them to tiny Solo cup “shot glasses” which I’d melted holes into by using an ice pick which I’d heated up by holding it over the flame of the stove.  Just as I’d hoped, the shot glasses were not enough weight to hold the balloons down, so I added a stone to each cup to keep the balloons weighted. Back to our school time —  I had the children remove the stones from their cups and we spent several minutes delighting in letting the balloons go and trying to catch them before they got away.  Then I laid an assortment of small items out on the table — toothpicks, Q-Tips, little Lego people, hairbands, tiny pom pom balls, fish and teddy bear counters.  I challenged the students to experiment with what it took to keep their cup down.  We found about 4 toothpicks was enough for one boy.  Another discovered that if he put two pom poms in, the balloon sort of floated mid-air.  Some kids had fun just seeing how full they could stuff their cups with all the trinkets.

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One little bear made this balloon kind of jump around. It took two to anchor it securely.

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With no added weight, the balloon would float to the ceiling. With just the right amount of added weight you could get it to hover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We folded baby wipes then painted designs on the top layer, and reinforced the design by adding extra paint where needed on the bottom layer.

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Unfolding brought squeals of delight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ART PROJECT
For our art project, we made “tie-dyed” squares.  I got the idea here.  We found it much easier for 4-year-old hands to just fold the baby wipe into quarters rather than twisting and wrapping rubber bands around them.  We painted them with these wonderful liquid watercolors.  While this meant we had to turn our folded wipe over and reapply some of the colors to the backside, I think the results were just as satisfying.

SNACK TIME
Snack time was  another learning experience.  Besides apple slices, we gave the children graham crackers and a little pot of peanut butter and instructed them how to use their plastic knife to spread the peanut butter.  Next they were offered mini chocolate chips, chopped pecans and coconut flakes to sprinkle on top.  Some had never tried coconut before but found they liked it.  This led to a conversation about how even though new experiences (like trying coconut or coming to the first day of preschool) might seem a little scary,  if we are always afraid to try new things, we will miss out on so much in life.

GROUP GAME
Our group game involved sitting around in a circle on the floor and taking turns rolling a ball across the circle to each other.  As we rolled the ball, we had to shout out our name.  Simple as this was, the kids anxiously waited for their turns and seemed to really enjoy the activity.

FREE PLAY
Now, the last hour of our day, it was time for free-play.  Today’s stations included playing with our tunnel, wooden blocks, rubber animals, stacking cups, this Fisher-Price gumball machine (which, even at 4 years old, these kids can’t seem to get enough of),  throwing sock balls to try to hit a Mylar balloon tied to a chair, and a story time corner.  We also brought the wooden puzzles back out for those who didn’t get enough of them earlier in the day.  All play stations got lots of activity.  Free play is a vital part of the preschool experience.  After spending over two hours in the classroom following directions and mostly staying seated, these kids need time to roam and explore.  It’s a wonderful social experience where kids learn to take turns, share toys, cooperate, create and, in some cases, stand in line.

Blocks, animals and cups? The possibilities are endless.

Blocks, animals and cups? The possibilities are endless.

When the parents showed up to pick up their “experienced” preschoolers, they were met with happy faces and chattering children anxious to share about their day.  In order to enhance this communication between parents and children, I send home a take-home letter listing all that we did that day and post pictures to our private group page.

Home School Co-op Ideas

As a follow-up to my home school co-ops post, here is a list of some of the group learning activities we’ve done over the years.  Some are not technically a co-op, but they still present excellent opportunities to learn together with other families.

HISTORY PARADE -Gather together a group of creative families with each family committing to creating an entry for the parade.  Each family’s entry displays what they are studying in history that year.  This could involve costumes, banners, wagon floats, perhaps even a musical piece from that period of history.  Set a date for your parade (I suggest February, to alleviate those mid-year blues.) and arrange to march through the halls of a local senior living complex  or assisted living facility(or several of them). Just parading through the halls will greatly bless the residents, but if you want to go further, have some families take responsibility for handing out notices ahead of time to the residents to guarantee a great audience.

A parade in the nursing home is a fun and unique experience which will delight the residents if you're not too noisy.

A parade in the nursing home is a fun and unique experience which will delight the residents if you’re not too noisy.

Other families can organize refreshments which you share with the residents while you visit with them or give presentations about what you are studying.

PRAIRIE PRIMER – In this wonderful year-long co-op we went through the Prairie Primer and decided what activities we wanted to do together as a group.  Each family read through the corresponding Little House book for the month and did whatever other activities out of the book they wanted to cover as a family. We met twice a month for group activities, with different families hosting each gathering and all 6 families contributing assigned duties for each meeting.  Some of the terrific things we did together included:

  • making cheese
  • non-electric night in which we had a night of entertaining activities by candle light and the punched tin lanterns the kids made at the previous activity.
  • doing a shadow theater which was really awesome
  • a prairie Christmas celebration
  • making silhouette portraits
  • making leather mocassins
  • a night with the grandparents which included square dancing and a “Farmer Boy”  banquet of recipes from the Little House Cookbook
  • a campout weekend at Laura Ingalls Wilder Days in Pepin, Wisconsin

MIDDLE AGES – This one was a two-month commitment.  Families studied the Middle Ages in whatever way they wanted, but our group gatherings included the following activities:

  • designing a family crest and making it into a banner

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    Human Chess Players

  • playing human chess and learning what the different chess pieces represented
  • building a 3-room castle complete with drawbridge out of refrigerator boxes
  • visiting a Middle Ages re-enactment
  • taking a field trip to Medieval Times
  • hosting a banquet in which the children were assigned parts to play (minstrel, jester, server, cup-bearer, juggler, etc.); we ate cornish hens, multi-grain bread, venison and other fine fare off of (pita)bread trenchers; we decorated the hall with our family crest banners, and thoroughly entertained all the grandparents as we tried to prove that yes, their grandchildren were getting plenty of social exposure and were, indeed, learning a great deal.
    Family Crest Banner

    Family Crest Banner

    Castle Building

HEALTH and NUTRITION-  One field trip included a trip to the grocery store where we were given a guided tour through the produce department and got to taste some of the more exotic fruits.  After that, we were allowed to roam the aisles on a scavenger hunt where the kids were to read labels to find items with very specific nutritional content.  Another field trip included a tour of a dentist office and some education about good oral health habits.  An activity day focused on the five senses and included crawling around in a model ear, dissecting a cow’s eye and other sensory activities.  There were also fitness tests, keeping food diaries, and a day of learning about balancing fun with work in which the kids learned to do fun things such as face painting and juggling.

YOUNG PUBLIC SPEAKING – In order to ease the (elementary aged) kids into public speaking we met monthly with a group of families to recite memorized poems and to give short speeches within assigned parameters — for instance one month it might be “How to do something,” another month, “describing my favorite place,” or “our family tradition”.

BOOK DISCUSSION GROUPS – In addition to our literature discussion groups, especially at the high school level, we would tackle the tougher subjects by going through the same books together and creating presentations, quiz questions, and other challenges for each other or just generally discussing the matter together with other students and their moms.  In this manner, we covered such topics as American government, psychology, worldviews, logic, and science labs.

"Blood and Guts" group on "Nervous System" day

“Blood and Guts” group on “Nervous System” day

BLOOD and GUTS –  That’s the name of the book we used.  In this co-op group, one of the moms (a registered nurse) taught the lessons — each month focusing on a different body system; one mom set up arrangements with a local butcher to get a pig heart, lungs, digestive system, and whatever other body parts we were studying that month “strictly for educational purposes” — we had to sign a form each month promising proper handling and disposal; another mom organized snacks for co-op days (How could we eat?); and one amazing mom agreed to host our monthly meetings in her home.  Additionally, each mom contributed a variety of experiments and activities to further expand upon that month’s particular body system.

Our plastic tarp version of a tipi

 NATIVE AMERICANS – In this two-month co-op, each family chose a different region of the country and studied the tribes that lived there.  Our group activities included

  • learning Native American games, dances and crafts
  • making costumes
  • constructing a 12-foot tipi
  • studying the various types of houses in each region
  • visiting the Indian Summer Festival
  • culminating in a night where we gathered together to share foods from, model costumes of, and present reports about our chosen region’s tribes.

WORLD TOUR –  Each family takes a turn hosting the group and chooses  a country for their family to study.  On their host day, they provide food, crafts, activities and presentations about that country, teaching what they’ve learned to the other families.  Each child gets a passport and marks off the various countries as they learn about them.

Alternatively, this can be done as a one-time event.  Rent out a gym or other large hall at a church or school and host a World Tour night.  Each family chooses a country to study.  They put together a display about that country and stand at their table ready to talk to visitors about their chosen country.  Optionally, families might provide food from that country to give out in small samples.  They are also instructed to bring stickers, a rubber stamp or some other form of representation of their chosen country with which they can mark passports.  When visitors arrive  they receive a passport with all participating countries listed.  As they “tour the world” they get each county’s sticker placed in their passport at the appropriate spot as they gather information from the kids about the country they studied.

SCIENCE FAIR –  Whether you want to run this as a co-op or class in which the students learn how to do a science fair project, or otherwise leave it up to the families to study that themselves and just organize the event, a science fair is a great way to get kids excited about science and the scientific process.  Be sure to provide judges and awards.

WILD WEST – Work together with other families to recreate the Oregon Trail, the gold rush, the Pony Express.  We went to a nearby Wild West Museum and learned all kinds of things.  The Pony Express and the Oregon Trail were two of our favorite memories.  I will write more about them in another post.

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Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to give this co-op thing a try if you are a home schooling family.  If you are not a home schooling family, perhaps I’ve given you a window into our world that explains why we are so sold on educating our children in this manner.  This is why I try to explain that you can’t compare home schooling to public or private schooling as easily as some people like to believe.  It’s just a very different approach to educating.  It’s not for everybody, but I’m so grateful we chose this route for our family and feel very blessed to have been able to share the adventure with all of the wonderful families we’ve met along the way.

If you’ve participated in home school co-ops, I’d love for you to tell us what you did and how it went in the comments below.